The next time you go running, you may want to ditch those shoes. According to a recent study conducted by the University of North Florida (UNF) in United States, running barefoot increases the working memory — our ability to recall and process information, which is used throughout our lifespan. By improving it, we may be able to realise gains in key areas, from school and work to retirement, the study found.
The experiment, designed by the departments of psychology, and clinical and applied movement sciences at the UNF was led by Ross Alloway, associate professor at the psychology department. The study claimed to be the first-of-its kind research to show that running barefoot leads to better cognitive performance than running with shoes.
The researchers analysed 72 participants between the ages of 18 and 44, who ran both barefoot and wore shoes at a comfortable, self-selected pace for approximately 16 minutes. They measured working memory before and after running.
The results showed that there was a 16 percent increase in the working memory performance in the barefoot-running condition whereas there was no significant increase in working memory when running with shoes.
"Working memory is increasingly recognised as a crucial cognitive skill, and these findings are great news for people looking for a fun way to boost their working memory," Tracy Alloway said.
The study suggested that the reason behind increase in the working memory while running barefoot could be the extra use of the memory that improves cognitive skills. According to the study co-author, Ross Alloway, it is possible that the barefoot condition required a more intensive use of working memory because of the extra tactile and proprioceptive demands associated with barefoot running, which may account for the working memory gains.
"The little things often have the greatest impact. This research shows us that we can realise our cognitive potential and enjoy ourselves at the same time," Ross Alloway said, adding that if one takes off shoes and goes for a run, he/she can finish smarter than when started.
When running barefoot, one often has to avoid stepping on potentially hurtful objects by using precise foot placement. As a result, study participants were required to step on flat objects to simulate running barefoot in an outdoors context. Though participants stepped on the flat objects with shoes and barefoot, only the barefoot condition saw improvements in working memory, the study added.